Thirty-three years ago, George M. Taber set the world of wine on fire with a four-paragraph dispatch about a tasting in France that compared the work of French vintners with those of their counterparts in California.
The California wines won, and winemaking in the New World has never been the same.
Taber wrote a book about the experience, "Judgment of Paris," followed by a second book, "To Cork or Not to Cork," on the history and controversy of wine corks.
Now, he's turned his sights on wine tourism, examining 12 regions on six continents in his new book, "In Search of Bacchus: Wanderings in the Wonderful World of Wine Tourism."
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He begins in familiar territory, California's Napa Valley, and winds his way through Chile, Italy and New Zealand before arriving at the former Soviet state of Georgia.
Taber eschews flowery descriptions of each wine's bouquet and clarity for criticism of the actual wine-tourism experience. Are the roads navigable? Are the wineries close together or miles apart? Do wineries charge for a tasting? The experience is nearly as important as the wines themselves.
He laments the opulence of some California winemakers and their attempts at mixing restaurants, gift shops and a tasting room, but celebrates the game reserve that combines South Africa's finest wines with a safari.
Readers get a blend of old-fashioned business and travel journalism with an if-you-go entry at the end of each chapter. The problem in these recessionary times is readers are less likely to take Taber's advice literally and hit the globe-trotting wine trail. But they'll still learn how the wine got from the vine to their table.
He also has suggestions for the "armchair traveler," with an appendix on what wines are widely available in the United States from the 12 regions he explores. Here he's more realistic: Most of these wines can be had for $30 or less.
One surprising find is how recently some countries came to winemaking - Argentina didn't get started in earnest until 1998 - and how individual players were instrumental in getting operations in countries such as Chile and South Africa from domestic distribution to producing internationally recognized vintages.
The winemakers are diverse, from the Chilean who once supplied cluster bombs to the Iraqis to Charles Back of South Africa's Fairview Wines whose wines include Goats do Roam, Goat Door and Bored Doe. (Get it? The French winemakers behind Cotes du Rhone, Cote d'Or and Bordeaux did, and they weren't happy.)
"Charles Back never heard a pun about goats he didn't like," Taber writes.
Taber's purpose in writing this book may be best described by Francis Ford Coppola, the film director and owner of Napa Valley winery Rubicon Estate.
"It's like meeting a politician and shaking his hand," Coppola says. "You always feel later that you have a personal relationship with him. If you've been to a winery and walked through the vineyard, you feel it's yours and you order its wines."
Readers might not walk the rows at Douro Valley's Quinta do Portal or Bordeaux's Chateau Haut-Brion, but Taber's newest book is solid journalism: who, what, when, where and, oh yeah, how much?